As those of you who frequented the Pulpit are likely aware, over the offseason I did a series of predictions about how the Pats will retool the roster. Given the dearth of news in this current zone of the year, I'll do a tentative evaluation of my predictions, bearing in mind that the roster is still in an amorphous, pre-cutdown state.
For those who weren't in the know, the articles I'm evaluating are:
After the jump: see how badly I did!
I made a number of predictions, but two stand out to me. Firstly, I posited:
TE slots: 3 This is one change I’d definitely like to see to the 2009 roster arrangement. The Pats actually started off with 3 Tight Ends, but the young blocker Michael Mathews was cut early on. In hindsight, this seems like a mistake - given the O-line injuries to come and the lack of a fullback, Baker and Watson spent most of their time shoring up a weakened blocking scheme than catching passes. A blocking TE would've lightened the load.
Guess what? Three TEs, including a veteran blocker - Alge Crumpler. Huzzah!
Secondly, my theory about some of the defensive woes being the lack of 3-down LBs - that three-down guys who can do a bit of everything means Belichick can scheme disguise plays. Disguise isn't possible when you've got players who can only play the run or the pass.
How'd that go? The Pats drafted ILB Brandon Spikes and OLB Jermaine Cunningham. Spikes is a two-fer; a natural run-stuffer who allows Mayo to switch to weakside ILB, thus improving the pass-coverage by subtraction. He's also shown his own better-than-average coverage skills in rookie minicamp:
[Brandon] Spikes looked solid in pass-coverage drills, moving well and getting his paws on a would-be interception. Alas, he dropped it.
Cunningham is, as Richard Hill notes in his introduction article, a potential three-down OLB - meaning the opposition won't know whether he's pass-rushing or dropping into coverage. Cunningham, while 'only' a 4-3 DE in college, was better than could be expected in pass-coverage;
CAREER NOTES: Cunningham started 38 of 45 games at Florida, registering 152 tackles (80 solos) with 19.5 sacks for minus 126 yards, 34.0 stops for losses of 162 yards and 11 quarterback pressures…Recovered one fumble and caused five others…Returned an interception 18 yards and deflected seven passes…Tied Carlos Dunlap (2007-09) for tenth on the school career-record list with 19.5 sacks…His 34 stops behind the line of scrimmage rank 11th in Florida annals.
Cunningham can get sacks, he can tackle in coverage, he can make plays behind the line of scrimmage, and he can get picks and break up passes. In other words, he's got the potential to be a three-down, all-style linebacker in the Mike Vrabel mould.
Overall grade: B. Nothing too major, although suggesting the Pats were missing 3-down LBs and then having them draft a couple isn't too bad. Moving back to a 3 TE mix was always likely with Welker being hurt, so not too much credit there.
I predicted that the Pats would stick with two QBs in the final roster. It's a bit early to really say how accurate that is - final roster cutbacks and the arrangement of the practice squad are still off in the distance - so I'll give that a 'push' rating.
My second thought was that the Pats:
sign one or two [vet QBs] for training camp bodies, and then cut them loose at the roster cutdown marks. I wouldn't expect any of the signees to stick around beyond those cutdowns, though.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Mike Teel.
The other thought I had was that the Pats have a:
penchant for picking up QBs in the draft under Belichick, whether they need them or not. Partly it seems to be experimentation, partly a need for competition, and partly a use of conditional draft picks under a "what if he actually works out" scheme...
There's no guarantee they'll make the team - O'Connell, Davey, and Kingsbury could all be considered busts - but there's always the chance the Pats will take a project/depth/speculation QB with a low-rounder.
I present you with a project/depth/speculation QB in 7th round draft pick Zac Robinson.
Grade: B+. Nailed it with the vet QB signing and depth/speculation low-round QB; I could still earn an A if Teel gets cut and Robinson goes on the Practice Squad.
I whiffed on this one to some extent. I suggested that the departure of Charlie Weiss had de-emphasised the importance of TEs in the passing game, rendering them blockers who occasionally caught TDs. I (correctly) thought the Pats were at a crossroads: they'd either snag some top-level talent and reintegrate the TE into the offense with a new emphasis on the position, or they'd downgrade and make them glorified blockers using only low-round picks on the position. I said:
[Belichick will] likely kick the tyres on a few free agent blocking-TEs with decent hands (think of that Kyle Brady mould), and possibly snag some low-round TEs to fill out the roster.
I got the first part right - Alge Crumpler - but I didn't quite predict the TE draft selections.
Gronkowski's a 'push' - a fine pass-catching TE who is ideal as a Pats-type blocker, too. He's the only top-rated TE that really fitted the Pats system as a dual blocker/catcher, so I don't really see his selection as a change in philosophy. He's fairly Ben Watson/Daniel Graham-ish, in that he's a good blocker and a good pass-catcher. At best, he's a great target and gets 500+ yards every season. At worst, he's a bigger, stronger, but slower Benjamin Watson. He's also the only higher TE who fits what the Pats have done with their TEs in the last few years.
Aaron Hernandez is the killer. He's a mismatch; a decent-but-not-Patriots-like blocker who excells in the passing game. He's a Dallas Clark-type - smaller, faster, great after the catch - in a system that squandered the last guy of that description (David Thomas). It was mainly due to Thomas's mismanagement that I didn't think the Pats would target Hernandez, but then, I didn't think Hernandez would fall down to the 4th round, either. If someone had told me he would go to the 4th round, I might've been convinced the Pats would speculate on the guy, much like they did with previous FB/H-back/TE Garrett Mills. I still mark myself down for not predicting it, though.
Rating: C. I spotted the potential to either upgrade or downgrade, but I backed the wrong horse. At least I didn't suggest drafting Tebow as a TE, though.
I spotted two trends in my analysis. The first is that:
Firstly, more often than not, the trades, free agent pickups and draftees were due to need - in 2004, the Pats needed to replace Smith in '04 and traded for Dillon, in 2006, Pats needed to supplement Dillon (who was injured in 2005) and drafted Maroney, in 2007 the Pats needed to replace Dillon and signed Morris... [etc]
This led me to believe the Pats wouldn't snag a top talent in trade/draft/etc, because they already had a full RB stable that was fairly productive
The second trend was that:
Every year the Pats have picked up a low-round draftee or UFA, irrespective of whether they've taken a stud RB in free agency or the draft
Pat Paschall. Yeah. Oh, and they resigned ex-UFA Chris Taylor as a camp body, too.
If the kid shines in training camp and makes the team (perhaps at the expense of an ageing and fragile Sammy Morris), that's great - it's a net win to the Pats if they upgrade at the position and get younger. If he doesn't (and as that list showed, most don't) then there's no big loss, either - they kicked the tyres on a younger guy, got a good look at him, and then have the option of putting him on the practice squad.
Whether that will happen is yet to be seen, but that's how I teed it up a few months ago.
Rating: A-. Completely correct, and I bumped myself up a notch for bucking the trend of other draft commentators who were sure the Pats would take x, y and z RBs in the draft. However, I did only predict the status quo, so it's only an A-.
I'm 'eh' on this one. I suggested there were probably two or three roster slots open for new guys, and said they would likely be a mix of rookies and free agent vets. So far, so good.
I'm personally envisioning a hefty free agent tryout of two or three guys (GLew version 2!), alongside perhaps a second-round rookie (or more likely, a 4th round rookie) and a 6th/7th round guy.
Kinda correct. Kinda not. I envisioned a few vet free agents trying out for one spot - David Patten and Torry Holt fit the bill - and a 2nd-to-4th round rookie aiming for another one - 3rd rounder Taylor Price is around spot-on. While I thought the Pats might use a 7th rounder on a WR, they did pick up a couple of UFAs they'd scouted pre-draft in Bryan Anderson and Buddy Farnham, so I wasn't quite that far off.
My real issue was that I didn't really have Taylor Price on my radar. Granted part of it was that he was rated as a 3rd round talent when the Pats didn't (at the time) have a third-round draft pick, but I'd also partially discounted him because he came from a non-Pro style offense. Given the failed Joey Galloway experiment (who also came from a non-Pats style offense), I didn't really rate Price appropriately.
Rating: B. Right philosophy, wrong guy. Whether he'll turn out as a good WR might sway it up or down a grade. If he's a bust, I'll add a +. If he's great, I'll add a -. This might be the one time I want a B- instead of a B+.
Going over what I said, pre-draft:
There's those four needs to address - re-sign Mankins, decide on whether Vollmer's a LT or RT, a future replacement for Dan Koppen, and a way to fix the running woes to the right. I suspect the fourth problem is tied to the second - Vollmer's a stud RT and would probably fix many of the problems related to Kaczur.
One of my predictions stands out - my concern over the age of Dan Koppen. As I put it:
He's a fine player, but he'll turn 31 part-way through the season, and has no obvious successor for all the duties attached to his role as Center and O-line captain
What'd the Pats do? Drafted Center Ted Larsen. Booyah.
Grade: B+. Rather arbitrary, but I see nothing really wrong with my predictions, and I don't think anyone else said the Pats would draft a Center to replace Koppen. However, again I more-or-less predicted the status quo with small additions, so I'd feel bad about awarding myself an A.
How'd I do overall? Disputing my self-grading?